At the beginning of the 20th century, when 12-string guitars first appeared in the United States, the instruments were considered novelty items, curiosities, freaks of guitar making that were beneath the dignity of serious companies like Martin and Gibson. But when Blind Willie McTell picked up a Stella 12-string in 1927, and then basically never put it down, the instrument was suddenly legitimized.

A folk singer named Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly, had actually made the Stella 12-string his own earlier, in 1912, but Lead Belly had so many scrapes with the law and spent so much time in prison that he wouldn’t get a chance to popularize the ringing tones of the 12-string until the 1930s and ’40s. Even then, his biggest hit, “Good Night Irene,” came after his death in 1949.

Pete Seeger and the Weavers kept the 12-string sound alive until the 1960s, when groups like the Rooftop Singers (“Walk Right In”) made it the go-to instrument on the commercial folk scene. Gibson was ready with its B-45 in 1961 and its B-25 in 1962, while Martin got on board a bit later with its D12-20 in 1964 and D12-35 in 1965.

The loudest noise in 12-strings, though, was made by Rickenbacker, thanks to a custom, one-of-a-kind 12-string version of its 325 hollowbody electric guitar made in 1964 for John Lennon of the Beatles. George Harrison also became a Rickenbacker acolyte, playing his Rickenbacker 360 12-string on songs like "A Hard Day’s Night."

One musician who liked that sound a lot was Roger McGuinn of the Byrds. Reportedly, he bought a 360-12 after seeing the movie named after of the famous Beatles song. He went on to play a 12-string on one of the Byrds’ biggest hits, “Turn Turn Turn.”

By the late 1970s, newer companies like Taylor made acoustic 12-strings part of their lines. Once again, a key musician would cement the instrument's sound in our collective soundtrack. In this case it was Neil Young who, while vacationing in Florida, purchased a Taylor 12-string, an 855, at a local music shop. Young liked his 855 so much he ordered a second, and Taylor subsequently gained widespread recognition when Young’s 855 figured prominently in his concert film, "Rust Never Sleeps."


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Recent News: 12 String Guitars

Source: Google News

'Wounds to Bind' a perceptive remembrance of the '60s folk-rock scene
San Francisco Examiner, April 23rd

But musicology (want to learn about the advent of the 12-string guitar?) is not necessarily the reason to read this remarkable memoir. (“Wounds to Bind” is the final refrain of “You Were on My Mind.”) Together with writer Alan Rifkin, Burgan sets his...Read more

CESAREO GARASA: This guy's finger-pickin' good
Bakersfield Californian, April 23rd

I'll do 'Freebird' on a 12-string guitar, as well as a lot of my original stuff as well." Though Dykes will open the floor to questions during the performance, the night will be about "all music and having fun, and, you know, actually just doing what I...Read more

Home concerts at the Rhubarbary Claudia Schmidt first to perform this spring ...
Petoskey News-Review, April 23rd

Her performances have been in front of large and small audiences ranging from intimate clubs to theaters and festival stages with 25,000 in attendance. Her nineteen albums of mostly original songs feature folk, blues and jazz played on her 12 string...Read more

Midweek Time Lapse: Blues legend Lead Belly plays Providence Art Club, 1935
The Providence Journal, April 22nd

On March 20, 1935, convicted murderer Huddie Ledbetter, who would become a Delta blues legend with his 12-string guitar, played the Providence Art Club on Thomas Street. The Journal sent a reporter and the story at right appeared in the March 21 paper...Read more

'Veep': Julia Louis-Dreyfus and her co-stars reveal the scenes they'd love to ...
Entertainment Weekly (blog), April 20th

They simply would wander into a bar and there would be an open mic night and Kent would be with his 12-string guitar, or trying to do a really pathetic five minutes of stand-up comedy. Just because he wanted to be liked or whatever — that's what he...Read more

Common Grounds Coffee House - April
NorthFulton.com, April 18th

George plays 6- and 12-string guitar, folk banjo, autoharp, and the “bones”. George will be accompanied by Louis Robinson on guitar and Scott Glazer on double bass. Light refreshments are for sale, including sweet treats, fruit with cheese and crackers...Read more

Odds Bodkin to pay visit
Wicked Local Concord, April 15th

At Bodkin's 2:30 p.m. show, Awesome Tales for Older Kids, the stories are geared more to children ages 8 and up, including "The Stonecutter," a Japanese folk tale performed on 12-string guitar; "The Boys and the Frogs," an Aesop's fable performed on...Read more

Local pastor performs songs on rare harp guitars
Newnan Times-Herald, March 30th

“I love the big, ringing sound of a 12-string guitar,” said Riley, before playing “Only a hobo” in honor of his late uncle, who helped with Friends of the Hobos, an organization that assisted hobos as their culture became marginalized. “[This harp...Read more